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Restaurants: Turning the Tables

Have restaurateurs come up with their own Zagat -- for patrons?

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Before you complain to a waiter that the Syrah tastes like swill, or consider stopping by your favorite corner boîte wearing a pair of stained sweatpants, think about where you want to be seated next time. The New York Times has reported that an increasing number of restaurants are being outfitted with cameras and computers to document every detail of a meal -- not to mention the habits and eccentricities of customers. In the dining-section piece, culinary czar Steve Hanson explained that he uses a software program, Perfect Host, to track regulars, with cross-referencing capabilities for all his restaurants, including Blue Water Grill, Ruby Foo's, and Park Avalon. He denied using the system with any ulterior motives, like rating the clientele, but a former employee suggests otherwise, claiming that the management keeps a scorecard on certain customers and their spending habits. "The place is not Pastis," explains the former Park Avalon employee. "It gets its fair share of weirdos and annoying people who ask for tons of bread, the frumpier types no one wants to serve." Hanson's director of operations, Chris Paraskevaides, emphatically defends the system: "We use it only to write if someone wants a quiet corner for a business meeting or wants a bottle of champagne waiting at the table. This gets printed out for the server, with just that information, so they know Mr. Smith has paid us a visit fifteen times. Nothing else." The ranking system ensures that good regulars will receive VIP treatment -- like a prime perch on the cushy velvet banquettes at the front of the house. Those who don't make the cut at Park Avalon may find themselves aboard what some of the wait staff jokingly refer to as the "crack deck." This elevated seating area, just steps away from the kitchen, is where "freaks and geeks," as one ex-employee describes them, are usually left in the restaurant's more inexperienced hands. "They are supposed to rotate the station, but no one ever wants it." Paraskevaides expresses shock at the unsavory name, insisting, "I think they're the best seats in the house!"


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